Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
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Here is a heartwarming imagining of the real journey undertaken by the extraordinary bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh. From her early days with her mama in the Canadian forest, to her remarkable travels with the Veterinary Corps across the country and overseas, and all the way to the London Zoo where she met Christopher Robin Milne and inspired the creation of the world’s most famous bear, Winnie is on a great war adventure.
This beautifully told story is a triumphant blending of deep research and magnificent imagination. Infused with Sophie Blackall’s irresistible renderings of an endearing bear, the book is also woven through with entries from Captain Harry Colebourn’s real wartime diaries and contains a selection of artifacts from the Colebourn Family Archives. The result is a one-of-a-kind exploration into the realities of war, the meaning of courage, and the indelible power of friendship, all told through the historic adventures of one extraordinary bear.
“Do you want to hear the story of your Bear?” I asked Cole one night while sitting on his bed. It was already long past bedtime, but it was the weekend. In his arms, he held his old stuffed bear: floppy-limbed and faded, its fur rubbed to velvet, one eye reduced to some loose bits of thread.
Cole wrinkled his nose. “Can I have a story I don’t know?” I could tell he was trying not to hurt my feelings.
I leaned back against the wall behind his bed. “Maybe I should tell you the real story.”
“I know the real story. You’ve told me about my great-great-grandfather and the real Winnie-the-Pooh a million times.”
“I never told you all of it,” I said.
Cole did not look convinced. “Why not?”
“Because I didn’t think you were ready.” We looked at each other. “Are you ready?”
“Is it scary?” asked Cole.
I could not lie. “At times. But we can stop whenever you want.”
Cole arranged his checked blanket around him, pulling its edge up to his Bear’s chin.
“Proceed,” he said in a serious way.
In the middle of the Woods was a tree, and at the bottom of the tree was a hole, and out of the hole poked a big black pad of a nose, which sniffed the air to see whether anyone was around. It smelled like a fine spring day, like the earth was growing.
Next came two great paws, followed by a pair of knowing eyes and a broad bushy back you could ride on. And just like that, a fully grown black bear stumped from her den under the tree.
After taking a moment to lumber around, Mama gave a wide yawn. “Come out, dear.”
A tiny cub crept from the hollow. She perked her ears and raised her nose and spun round in wonder. “Our den is inside a tree?”
There she was: your Bear.
This was Bear’s first time out-of-doors, though if she were like most bears, she would never know what a doors was.
Mama came over and licked her cub behind the ears. “Our den is inside a tree.” She led her over to a different trunk. “Our tree is inside the Woods.”
“The Woods smells like food!” The cub’s nose pulled her about, over bumpy roots, along a rotting log, and up to a flower with a bright yellow scent, which she ate. She found some bitter green berries and ate them up and lapped water from a muddy puddle. She discovered a great mossy rock that she tried to climb, but she kept falling off. She gnawed at the bark of a tree.
Dizzy with the newness of it all, she returned to rest against Mama and her sweet, musky fur.
It was a very good place to think.
While the birds sang to one another about the wind, Mama groomed her cub by picking over the top of her head with her teeth. A question welled up inside your Bear. “Is anything bigger than the Woods?”
Mama’s nose twitched and her belly shook. “I don’t think so,” she breathed, and her breath smelled of blackberries.
“What’s the highest up any bear has ever gone?” wondered your Bear. This was later that spring, as she stood with Mama at the base of a white-trunked tree. She had only just learned to climb.
“Well,” Mama admitted, “that’s an unusual question.” She scratched her nose with her paw and dropped her chin. “I’ve never climbed this tree.”
Bear sneezed impatiently. “How high?”
Mama gave the tree a side rub. She stood right up against it and pushed her front legs straight and looked from one branch to another. “See that crooked limb way up there?” She pointed with her chin.
The cub’s eyes searched. “No.” And then, “Yes!”
Mama stretched her neck. “I’d say that is Higher Than Any Bear Has Ever Gone.”
“I can do that!” decided Bear.
Mama lowered herself back to all fours. “You can, can you? You’d have to be very brave to climb that high.”
So your Bear, she started to climb.
She climbed. And climbed.
She climbed and climbed.
She climbed and climbed and climbed.
She climbed and climbed
and climbed and climbed and climbed.
She climbed and climbed
and climbed and climbed
and climbed and climbed
She climbed. And climbed. And climbed. And climbed. And—
Her legs were beginning to ache when a gigantic black fly landed right on the tip of her nose.
“Please don’t.” Bear wiggled her snout. “I’m climbing Higher Than Any Bear Has Ever Gone.”
Well, the fly had never been spoken to in quite the same way by another creature. He was touched. With a tiny buzz, he hovered aside. “Good luck!”
And on Bear rose through a cool, earthy patch of air.
With her legs wobbling, she rested her face against the white bark and gathered her strength.
And your Bear climbed. And she climbed and she climbed.
She grabbed hold of the limb and got her chin up onto it, and then one back paw, and then the other, and pulled herself into its crook. She shut her eyes and let her tongue hang all the way out of her mouth.
The Highest Any Bear Had Ever Gone!
Even then, that was the kind of bear your Bear was.
Her ears stood up. Mama’s voice, distant and faint, sounded mad.
When Bear looked over the edge, she couldn’t see Mama at all. It was a very, very, very long way down.
And all at once, all her hairs started to shake.
“HOW am I going to get DOWN?” she wailed.
Two squirrels came round to see what all the fuss was about: One was Fancy and the other was Tall. They scampered onto a high branch not far from the crooked limb.
“It’s a bear!” marveled Tall. He sprung up tall and scrunched down and shot up and scrunched down. “How do you like that?!”
Fancy brushed back her ears. “I never would have thought that sort of racket could come from a bear,” she observed with a toss of her head and a sweep of her tail. “Perhaps she’s Himalayan.”
Tall scratched his cheek. “Have you ever seen a bear this high up before?”
“Never.” Fancy turned her nose up. “It’s unnatural.”
Mama’s voice rose to Bear’s ears. “Be brave!”
Tall bounced nervously. “I wonder why she’s so upset.”
“Hello!” Bear called.
Fancy and Tall froze.
“Haaaalllllllloooooo!” Your Bear had stopped whining completely.
Very slowly, so as not to attract any attention, Tall leaned closer to Fancy. “Is she talking to us?”
“Hold on,” said Cole.
“You said this was the real story.”
“The true story.”
“Then why are there talking animals?”
This was a good question.
“Just because animals don’t speak words,” I said, pausing to consider my answer, “that doesn’t mean they can’t talk. Animals bark and roar and hiss and chirp at one another all the time. Usually, they can only understand animals like them. Cats understand cats. Whales understand whales. What made your Bear special was that she could communicate with just about anyone.”
Cole squeezed the line of his Bear’s mouth. “Hallo there,” he said in a high voice.
Fancy and Tall could not believe it: a Talking Bear!
But while Fancy staggered backward, clutching her tail to her breast, Tall crept farther down the branch, studying the cub. He scampered back to Fancy. “She seems friendly.”
Fancy glared at him with both sides of her face. “Have you lost your acorns?” Her tail pointed straight up. “It’s a trap!”
“I know you see me,” Bear was calling. “You! Yes, you! The gray things!”
With sudden resolve, Tall stepped past Fancy’s tail. “We are Squirrels. How can we help?” Fancy tsked him loudly, but Tall went on. “We’ve never seen a bear this high up before!”
Fancy bit Tall on one of his hind legs. “STOP TALKING TO THE BEAR!”
Tall spun on her. “Why?”
Fancy whipped him in the head with her tail. “BECAUSE BEARS EAT SQUIRRELS!”
“Not always,” Tall pointed out, with one tiny paw in the air.
Bear patted the crooked branch. “Do you know how I might get down?”
Fancy flicked her ears as if she’d had enough, and with great impatience, she zipped over to a point higher up on the white trunk. “You just—climb down!” She pointed her nose to the ground, glided down until she was just out of Bear’s reach, turned around, and raced back up.
“I see,” Bear told herself. “Like that.” She wiggled back to the trunk, slid her front paws toward the earth so she was upside down, and lost her footing at once. Frantically, she claw-clutched the white trunk, screeching.
“Not like that!” the squirrels chickered.
Mama’s grunts floated up from below. “I’m coming! Here I come!”
“Silly bear!” Tall couldn’t stop tittering. “Bears don’t go headfirst!”
When Bear finally succeeded in climbing back into the branch’s crook, she stuck out her nose at Fancy. “That’s what she did!”
Tall shrugged with an air of apology. “We’re Squirrels.”
“We have bird bones,” agreed Fancy, winding her tail.
Tall suddenly squeaked, “Big Bear!” The pair darted to a higher branch on the next tree over as Mama trudged up.
“This,” Mama panted, “is very,” Mama panted, “high.”
The cub let Mama pull her down to rest in the place between Mama’s neck and shoulder. Mama nipped Bear’s leg gently. “Too high. You are very brave.”
She began to climb down, leading Bear step-by-step.
By the time they dropped through the cool patch of air, Bear was wagging her head proudly. “The squirrels told me they’d never seen a bear so high up before.”
Mama gulped as your Bear clambered past her on her way to the ground. “You were talking to squirrels?”
Curled against Mama’s belly in the lightless warmth of their den, Bear noticed a thought trying to find a place to land, but it couldn’t find a good spot, so she stopped nursing and asked, “Why were they scared of you?”
Mama stirred. “Who?”
“Because I am a bear, and they are squirrels.”
“Oh, right.” Bear went back to nursing, but the thought still would not stop fluttering about, so she turned over. “But why would squirrels be scared of bears?”
Mama licked her cub behind one ear. “Animals are scared of other animals.”
“But why?” Bear pressed her.
“Because animals kill animals.”
Bear put a paw to her mouth. It felt as if a tree were falling inside her chest. “No animals kill bears, though. Right?”
“The trapper does,” Mama snorted. “Remember the trap?”
Bear’s hairs stood on end. She and Mama had come across the trap one day after a great rain. Its monstrous teeth were sunk into the neck of a dead fox. The scent of the trapper clung to everything.
Bear had not realized until just now that what happened to the fox could happen to her.
It grew darker and darker inside the cub’s head until it was as dark as the den.
“Do bears kill?” she wondered. “Do you?”
“When I have to,” admitted Mama. “When there is not enough food.”
The cub wriggled around suddenly, twisting her body as if she were trying to get away. She scratched at Mama.
“We fight or we flee,” huffed Mama. “This is what animals do.”
“I didn’t fight the squirrels!” yelped the cub. “They didn’t run from me!”
Mama shrugged her great shoulders. “Then they must be very brave.” She let her cub writhe and whine until, very gently, she placed her chin atop Bear’s side to quiet her.
“Maybe I’m not like other animals,” Bear huffed, wiping her nose with the back of one paw.
“Maybe you’re not.” Mama pulled your Bear closer. “But I’m happy you’re you.”
“You said nothing was bigger than the Woods!” Your Bear bounded into the lake as Mama trundled after her.
“This water is very large,” Mama yawned. She ducked under the surface, looking for something fishy to eat.
Bear was in a wrestling mood. She charged up to Mama, nipped at her arm, and splashed out of reach. Mama grunted, “I’ll get you!” and went after her. She caught her cub by the scruff of her neck and tossed her into the air, and when Bear crashed back into the water, she made friendly bubbles at all the tiny silver fish, but they darted away, so she turned back to Mama. “Again!” Bear begged. “Again!”
Afterward, they flattened themselves on a broad rock to dry, your Bear’s limbs as heavy as stones.
The sun moved the shadows. With her muzzle resting on Mama’s arm, the cub ran her eyes along the bright belt of trees that bordered the lake.
Something caught her attention: a string of white puffs marching above the treetops like baby clouds. New puffs rose to the front of the line as the ones in the back faded away.
The cub sat up. “Look.” The puffs were coming round the lake as quickly as birds. Now she could hear them chugging like crickets.
Mama lifted her head.
“What is that?” Bear wondered.
Mama put her head back down. “It is too far away to harm us.”
But your Bear wasn’t afraid. She was curious.
Long after the puffs faded to blue, she watched the sky. Thoughtfully, she nose-nudged Mama. “What’s the farthest you have ever gone?”
Mama peered across the water. “To the other side of the lake.”
“I want to go farther.”
“How do you know it will be safe?” Mama asked.
There was a long, thoughtful silence, because Bear did not know.
She just kept staring at the horizon until Mama leaned over and scratched her on the back of her neck. “Only a bear brave enough to talk to a snake could go that far.”
Bear’s nose wriggled as if Mama had tickled it. Just that morning, Mama had found her deep in conversation with a snake! They had talked about which was better: legs or no legs.
Anyway, Bear liked that Mama had said that. She licked Mama’s shoulder.
Mama leaned down and licked her head in return. “No matter where you go, you will always be my Bear.”
Every day through the height of that summer, the cub and her Mama swam and climbed and ate and roamed and wrestled. Here was Mama, introducing her to the robin’s raspberry bush, which had the sweetest berries in the entire Woods. Mama, hushing so Bear could hear what the snails had to say. Mama, snoring while Bear chased the crickets through the high yellow grass and then let the crickets chase her. Mama, looking up at the stars because Bear asked her to, and saying she had never noticed them before.
And every day Bear would climb a tree to watch the white puffs round the lake.
- "Oh my, how I love Winnie's Great War. Only the magical team who brought us Finding Winnie could have created this poignant and heartwarming novel. An incandescent celebration of friendship and courage, this perfect little book is one to cherish. A triumph."—Katherine Applegate, Newbery Award-winning author of The One and Only Ivan
- "A work of undeniable charm. This is distinctively old-fashioned, gentle storytelling that children will enjoy reading aloud."—The New York Times Book Review
- * "A heartwarming read-aloud."—School Library Journal, starred review
- "A charming addition to Pooh lore that will send readers happily back to the Hundred-Acre Wood."—Kirkus Reviews
- "Well-detailed descriptions carry the reader along on the trip, and Colebourn and Winnie's strong friendship, rendered believably and movingly, is the emotional heart of the story."—Publishers Weekly
- Praise for Finding Winnie:
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
- On Sale
- Sep 18, 2018
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers